|Index||6 reviews in total|
I am very glad I finally saw "Black Girl." I missed seeing it when it
was first released in the U.S., and now--36 years after it was
produced--the film found its way to Upstate New York (Rochester
Labor Film Festival).
We cannot judge this movie in 2002 terms--by those terms it is technically crude, and too short (only 65 minutes). The print shown in Rochester was of poor quality--especially just before and after reel changes.
Despite all these hurdles, I found "Black Girl" compelling and disturbing. The basic themes are the conflict and contrasts between White and Black, European and African, rich and poor, literate and non-literate. The contrasts are not subtle, but neither are they violent or brutal. There is no physical violence, but rather emotional and psychological violence.
Sembene--who had to learn his cinema craft in Russia because opportunities were denied him by the French--is a master. A master working without star actors and without state-of-the-art technology can still produce a masterpiece!
On the injustices one culture can do to another. The film is about an African woman who gets a job with a white family and agrees to follow them back to France, only to be disenheartened in the end. While, the production values were not great, the messages of this film are stronger than most major US motion pictures. The characters (especially the French) do seem to be a bit shallow, and don't have much depth to them. Yet, the theme of loneliness from displacement and cultural injustice ring powerfully loud in the end. An 8 out of 10.
Black Girl (1966)
*** (out of 4)
Impessive feature from Ousmane Sembene about a black woman (Mbissine Therese Diop) from Senegal who goes to live in France as a servant but soon begins to feel the abuse of her "owner." Some people have called BLACK GIRL one of the greatest films ever made but I'm going to fall well short of that type of praise. With that said, there's no question that the film has a pretty strong message and gets its across without having to preach or wag fingers in the viewers face. Some people have complained about the look and style of the picture but I personally thought this was one of the highlights. I really liked how the thing almost came across as a documentary as we often just see the woman as she is working or being abused and then we hear her narration afterwards. I also liked how the flashbacks were used to give us more information about the woman and of course this leads us to the ending, which I'm not going to spoil for those who haven't seen the film. It's certainly a very effective one that will lead people to have their own views on what it actually means. I liked how the film isn't just about a black and white issues but there's also the issues of differences between people of different countries as well as a issue of money. Director Sembene does a very good job at telling the story and doing so in a rather original way. The performance from the lead actress is simply wonderful as is the supporting one from Anne-Marie Jelinek.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Black Girl is a simple film. A synopsis of the entire story would take
only a few sentences. And the main character is rather lifeless
throughout most of he film. Still, I found myself thinking about the
film and its implications afterwards--a measure of success that prompts
me to rate this film "7".
Except for some flashbacks to life in Senegal, the film is told in a linear fashion. Most of the action is confined to the interior of the apartment where Diouanna works. This reflects her lifestyle and creates a tension that corresponds to her emotional state.
Most of what we know about Diouanna's feelings come from voiceovers. Her character does not talk much. I am not sure why. Is it a cultural thing? I don't think so. For the most part, she seems an introvert. Does that make her as much a prisoner of her own personality as of her circumstances?
Spoiler: It is nearly impossible to discuss this film without discussing its ending. Her suicide is her most important statement. Especially since she could have gone back to Senegal. The suicide seems to be a matter of honor. This issue could prompt some interesting discussions.
In the end, we are left with some questions. And some obvious comments about the insensitivity of the French she encounters in France, who make it easy for themselves to demean her by minimalizing her humanity because she is different from them.
The print I saw was a bit erratic and grainy, and included one jumpy sequence in color, whereas the rest was in black and white. This is the deceptively simple story of a woman from Senegal who joins a French family in France to be their nanny touches on many cultural, colonial, racial, and emotional issues, and if you look for easy answers, or answers at all, you'll be disappointed. There's a bit of French New Wave to the film, though it's really mostly African, featuring Senegalese music on the soundtrack. The only real flaw I see is that the story is told rather sketchily, with little in the way of clues as to the timing. Do the events take place over the course of a few days or weeks? The ending comes up so quickly that it feels a little forced, though not entirely unexpected.
"Black Girl" ("Borom Sarret") (French/African, 1966): Read any book about film, and this one is cited as a GREAT work. Well folks, the King Has No Clothes. A brain-damaged college freshman could've done better. Here's what the STORY tried to be: an African woman is hired as a child caretaker in Africa, and later follows the French family to France to continue working for them. She doesn't like it. She complains a lot, thinks of herself as a slave, and eventually does something drastic. I'm telling you this isn't just a yawn... it is story full of plot holes, no character depth, no situational empathy (although I suspect viewers were EXPECTED to have strong feelings and side with the "poor girl"), continuity problems, and a motivational mess. That's not all. The movie has TERRIBLE camera work, crappy lighting, editing equal to a monkey with scissors, scoring that makes no sense and has no subtlety, acting that just plain stinks, location shots that are perhaps the worst I've ever seen I'm simply ASTOUNDED at the kudos given this terrible mess of a lousy film. I can only surmise that in this case the "King has no clothes" Syndrome was the 1960's politically correct social agenda in the Euro/American sphere for recognizing black/white equal rights - which caused it to be held high for its (possible) intentions when in reality it deserved to be tossed in the garbage can as a failed attempt.
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